Saturday was one of those almost but not quite days for the Campbell County boys soccer team. Top-ranked and consensus favorite to win the Class 4A state soccer tournament, the Camels fell just …
CASPER, Wyo. — As Wyoming moves to end mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder, lawyers for the state and the American Civil Liberties Union say it's possible that some of the half dozen or so inmates already serving that sentence may ask the courts to reconsider their cases.
Gov. Matt Mead recently signed a bill into law that specifies that juveniles convicted of murder would be eligible for parole after serving 25 years in prison. The new law will go into effect July 1.
The law isn't retroactive, deputy attorney general Dave Delicath told the Casper Star-Tribune.
"Their sentences were within the law allowed at the time," Delicath said.
However, Delicath said it's possible that the convicts serving life without parole for crimes committed when they were juveniles may petition the courts to reconsider their sentences in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued last year.
Acting on a case from Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders.
Jennifer Horvath, staff attorney with the Wyoming branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Wyoming is fortunate that its Legislature moved quickly to bring its juvenile sentencing law into line with the high court decision.
"I think a lot of states haven't really sussed out what they are going to do yet," Horvath said.
Following its ruling in the Alabama case, the U.S. Supreme Court last year vacated the life sentence for Wyatt Bear Cloud, who was convicted in the 2009 home invasion killing of Sheridan businessman Robert Ernst. Bear Cloud was 16 at the time of the crime.
Prior to the new state law, judges sentencing juveniles convicted of first-degree murder in Wyoming could choose only between sentences of life in prison with or without the possibility of parole. Receiving parole still required a commutation from the governor.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bear Cloud's case made it plain that Wyoming's old law didn't satisfy the requirement under the Alabama case that judges have a choice other than life in prison for juveniles convicted of murder.
The state's new law doesn't entirely do away with life sentences for juveniles but specified that state courts must hold special sentencing hearings for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder. The judge at such a hearing would consider the juvenile's record, maturity and chance of being rehabilitated.
Horvath agreed that other Wyoming inmates serving life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles could seek new sentencing hearings based on the Wyoming Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. "I'm not exactly sure how this is going to play out," she said.
Earlier this month, the Wyoming Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing hearing for Bear Cloud. The court ordered a district judge to decide how many years he must serve before he will be eligible for parole.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com